NASA Robots Compete in DARPA’s Subterranean Challenge Finals for Chance to Win $2 Million

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)-led Team CoStar is set to participate in the Subterranean Challenge finals that are scheduled to be held this week. The challenge involves a demonstration of multi-robot autonomy in a series of tests in extreme environments. According to NASA JPL, Team CoSTAR will be among the eight teams that will be competing in the finale. The teams will use dozens of robots to traverse through a series of complex underground scenarios. The eight teams and robots are from more than 30 institutions and will be competing for prize money of $2 million (roughly Rs. 14.7 crores)

The teams are competing in a former Kentucky limestone mine from September 21 to September 24 to participate in the challenge. The challenge is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

In a statement shared by NASA JPL, the objective of the challenge was described as “developing autonomous robotic solutions for first responders in underground environments where GPS and direct communications are unavailable.”

The team from NASA JPL will comprise 60 members. This includes engineers from California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Luleå University of Technology, and other industry partners, the note said.

Specifying the scope of the team, the statement added, “The JPL-led Team CoSTAR (Collaborative SubTerranean Autonomous Robots) will demonstrate their collection of driving, walking, and flying robots that could one day be used to explore extreme terrains on the surface as well as inside the caves and lava tubes on other worlds without human assistance.”

Team CoSTAR, in particular, will be “developing AI and autonomy software solutions for physical robots that can navigate challenging and previously unseen environments.” 

In addition to this, the note added that the technologies developed for the challenge and those focussed on extreme-environment exploration on Earth also have direct applications in the realm of space exploration.

With regard to the challenge, the statement added that Team CoSTAR “relies on a diverse array of robots to fulfil the mission goals.” The robot scouts will be sent to first explore the environment, and then a “subset of robots” will be chosen to satisfy the overall mission goals.

Speaking about the Subterranean Challenge, Joel Burdick, a Caltech professor and JPL research scientist, said, “I am excited to see how our very diverse robot team will perform.” Burdick leads the Caltech campus section of Team CoSTAR.

As per the statement, the team of robots must operate autonomously or with limited radio contact with one human supervisor. The mission must be completed in one hour. The points will be assigned based on how many objects they can reach, identify, and locate.

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